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Bob Wootton 

Timely interventions

Timely interventions

Bob Wootton gets to grips with the events of the year so far and what's coming down the track for social media platforms

Strangest start to a year.  No New Year celebrating and despite a captive, locked-down audience, broadcasters threw in the towel on holiday content.  Thank goodness then for a surge of new shows since, albeit many from Auntie.

But it’s still trying times – revenues and therefore production budgets are down, while shooting, still permitted and possible, is more difficult and expensive.

So there’s less, both in quantity and variety, in the pipeline for an audience that’s still going to be incarcerated and for some while yet.

Something I don’t believe would be in any way alleviated by private equity.

Happily, commercial production has held up remarkably well. Shout out to the Advertising Producers’ Association for some successful lobbying on its members’ behalf here.

Netflix, Amazon and latest entrant Disney, will all continue to thrive in this hothouse, with most households well and truly used to spending much more on telly than they once did.

The genie’s out of the bottle and this rattles the BBC.

Technology and viewing behaviours render its ‘licence fee’ obsolete for many. Optionality would lead to a collapse in revenues, so the only remaining defence is statutory, hence its posturing. Ouch.

Lots of recent change at the top of Sky Media, with MD John Litster, head of trading Duncan Wynn, and client partnerships director Andrew Mortimer leaving. 

Doubtless a foreseeable consequence of completed earn-outs following Comcast’s acquisition a couple of years ago, but it’s substantial change in one slug.

The new hires – OMG’s Tim Pearson and Ruth Cartwright - continue a now well-established trend for crossing between agency and sales and vice versa. 

They have strong pedigrees but a steep learning curve. Perhaps things are not as different as they were on either side. Short-term during crisis, maybe. Longer-term, I’m not so sure.

Mortimer, meanwhile, is joining forces with Scott Moorhead, whose consultancy thus morphs from Aperto One to The Aperto Partnership.

When it opened in 2016, Aperto made a big play about transparency in the wake of the ANA report and other influences of the time (myself included).

The topic has reared its head regularly since but the media value chain has continued to branch in complexity and remains largely opaque to most of its customers.

Their broad and accomplished combined skillsets should see them thrive in a sector that has seen considerable change since Accenture’s withdrawal (for conflict reasons!).

Pool-based comparative price and ‘quality’ assessment is dead in the water to anyone who understands the market. The newer entrants focus variously on process, value and relevance to objectives.

Talking of understanding the market. Sadly, most advertisers still don’t while they continue to plough huge amounts of their employers’ monies.

This signals a massive education opportunity using the resources of this sector’s new clutch of leaders. Hope it’s on the ISBA’s new year resolutions list.

Putting a foot on the platforms

The tide that was gathering momentum in 2020 got a huge boost from the embarrassing and dangerous pantomime that is the U.S presidential succession.

After a bunch of good ole boys (and girls) stormed the Capitol - allegedly wound up by the incumbent and stoked by social media platforms - calls for their regulation have ballooned.

Needless to say, The Ad Contrarian is flaming away in is his inimitable style – here, here and here.  It’s looking like martial law on the streets of the U.S for Joe Biden’s presidential accession.

Whether genuinely-motivated or just top-notch mischief, Twitter’s decision to suspend the President’s account was the final confirmation of what everybody has known for ages – that the social platforms ARE publishers, if admittedly somewhat different ones.

Expect much more around government intervention, though the issue of how national bodies can effectively regulate a truly international and arguably stateless entity remains intractable.

But hey, if China et al can simply shut the internet down when it suits them, I’d imagine it’s not beyond the bounds of technological possibility for regulators elsewhere to be given selective powers. No, the question is how they use those powers to arrive at interventions.

Statutory regulation is (necessarily) slow and this subject moves fast. Very fast. Things are invented faster than they can even be understood, let alone externally controlled.

And the sharpest pencils are going to flock – like they do already - to where the rewards are greatest (and the food flows freely all day).

Conversely, regulators are required, rightly, to work rigorously.

No “move fast and break things” for them, nor “beta testing” their verdicts in the field. That would only lay them open to judicial review and guess who can afford the most and best lawyers? Right again.

Then there’s demarcation, for which government and its organs are famous.

Should UK regulation of the social channels be down to media regulator Ofcom or the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA)? The platforms offend egregiously in both spheres.

On the bright side, we’ve been here before.

The CMA’s predecessor, the Competition Commission, worked hand in glove with the nascent Ofcom on ITV’s pricing way back in 2003, so it can be done, if not quickly.

It’s also going to be fascinating to see how the trade bodies respond when asked, as they will be, for evidence in this space.

It was one thing when advertisers made stuff and media didn’t advertise much and were barred from joining their trade body anyway.

But today, the platforms are some of the largest advertisers and are well in. And the line between medium and advertiser is blurred with categories like B2C and gambling joining the platforms on the cusps.

That aside, an early win should be the recognition that quality journalism should be protected and adequately resourced by a significant and enforceable, not voluntary, levy on the online channels, which plunder its current funders.

More anon. I hope your years have started as well as can possibly be expected. Stay well.

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